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Like many people I spent much of June ensconced in front of the television watching the World Cup. As someone who grew up in England, to me there is only one game called football. This is obviously not the view of most New Zealanders. To them rugby union is football. However, those in South Auckland or on the West Coast may feel it is rugby league. In Melbourne it would be AFL. Then again, the Americans have a completely different game they regard as football. Clearly, a Nike executive interested in finding out how many people went to the football had better be precise about exactly what game they are interested in.This is typical of the data definition challenge that confronts CIOs in business. In almost every organisation there is much potential for confusion in how people interpret things. Is demonstration equipment stock that can be sold? Are Australia and New Zealand parts of Asia-Pacific? Does IT include telecommunications? Unfortunately, in an era when there is more and more information bombarding executives these ambiguities add to the challenge of finding the data that is wanted. IDC recently sought to quantify this problem. It asked delegates at the recent Knowledge Management World conference how many hours they spent looking for information. More than 90% of respondents reported they spend one to 12 hours or more each week searching for needed information. However, only 21% considered their searches truly successful. IDC believes the top 1000 US companies fritter away $US2.5 billion annually on often futile information hunts. The task facing CIOs is compounded by the fact that information has a life cycle. Documents are created and then distributed. After you have received a document you have to decide how you want to manage it. Do you delete it? Where will you file it? Is there any security issue? The next challenge is to retrieve the information when you need it in the future. It then needs to be applied and, when it is, the cycle begins again as the knowledge is used to create new documents.Given the relentless nature of this activity it is surprising how low in importance CIOs rate organising and utilising data. The whole life cycle breaks down if the information cannot be retrieved. Yet, in the most recent Forecast for Management survey, organising and utilising data was ranked 19th out of 25 major tasks facing the CIO over the next 12 to 18 months. Furthermore, only 40% of respondents to a recent survey into data management undertaken by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) reported they had a formally documented data management strategy. Moreover, in many instances it was left to the CIO to drive this process. However, without strong business ownership, it is perhaps not surprising that only 37% of the same executives reported complete confidence in the quality of their company data. In addition, in these days of increasing e-business only 15% had total confidence in the accuracy of data received from third parties. The survey showed how increasingly more and more decision-making is based on data that is electronically retrieved. Clearly, if these judgments are made on information polluted with ambiguities then the outcomes are likely to be flawed.The PWC study highlighted some of these potential ramifications:* Resources consumed reconciling accounts.* Cash flow suffering from a failure to bill or to collect debts.* Customers antagonised by an inability to fulfil orders because stock levels are incorrect.* Relationships jeopardised because of a failure to meet contractual requirements. Conversely, good data quality reduces processing and reconciliation time and can aid sales through better prediction techniques and stronger customer insights.Knowledge management is an increasing concern for many CIOs. Yet to be effective it must be built upon the foundation of robust information. At its core this requires a strategy to manage and classify the data created and received by the organisation. As such, those CIOs striving to help their companies compete in the knowledge economy clearly need to get on the ball in developing a data management strategy for their business.Peter Hind is a consultant for IDC and assists the Australian Computer Society in policy developments. He also heads the InTEP CIO gatherings in New Zealand and Australia. You can reach him at email@example.com.